Film Photography On A Shoestring

There are still many myths around how much it costs to get set up with film photography.

I want to shoot a few more down.

A while back I wrote about how to start start film photography for £27. Based on at least two of the three rolls of film I’ve just got back from the lab, this amount is hugely generous.

Let’s just look at one set up, a 35mm SLR.

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Canon EOS 500, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film as b/w

The caption above kind of gives away the kit I used, but to elucidate further –

Camera – Canon EOS 500

These are abundant on the auction site online and often in charity shops too. Though I also have a more sophisticated EOS 300v which cost a heady £15, the 500 does everything I need and more. It’s great if you’re coming from a DSLR as it looks and feels similar – like a baby DSLR with no LCD screen on the back, simpler controls and that only weighs 350g. It cost me 99p plus a couple of pounds postage.

Lens – Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 Mount

I bought this from a jumble bin at a camera show. It’s battered, bruised, has lots of dust and a couple of bubbles inside. Plus a dent in the filter rim where it was rapidly encouraged to the floor from a table by a three year old. But it keeps on ticking. The dealer wanted £10, I got it for £7. Try these other three underdogs for equally affordable alternatives.

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Canon EOS 500, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film as b/w

Film – AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200

This rebranded Fuji C200 film is £1 a roll in Poundland. It’s very versatile and I’ve used it extensively to shoot colour, DIY redscale and black and white. Though there are other emulsions I like, this is my Olympian Decathlete film – a fantastic all round champion.

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Canon EOS 500, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film as b/w

Of course the Canon EOS isn’t a native M42 mount body.

So I need an adapter.

I actually have three, as a couple of sellers have included them free when I’ve bought M42 lenses. If you do have to buy one, they start at 99p. With free postage. Mine is a simple all metal adapter with no fancy focus chips. On Aperture Priority (Av) mode on the EOS it works a treat.

Adding it up, this set up cost me about £12, including film.

Obviously the film you can only use once, and there are development costs each time.

But there are no excuses on the grounds of cost in getting started with shooting film (or resuming the passion you retired to the sidelines years ago).

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Canon EOS, Helios 44-2, complete with dented filter ring badge of honour

What else does £10 buy you these days?

Are you making excuses about getting started in shooting film? 

Or, like me, do you try to shoot on a shoestring budget?

Please let us know in the comments below.

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How To Start Film Photography For £27

One of the major reasons people are afraid to explore film photography is the perceived expense.

They’re concerned that to even get set up you need to spend hundreds of pounds on a capable camera and lens, and that’s before you even think about buying and processing film.

This is largely a myth, and this post is to show you how to get set up and started with some super capable kit for less than £30.

First, the camera. 

Whilst I love Pentax and Contax bodies, if I was starting out with film again, based on the knowledge I’ve gained over the last four years and 100+ cameras, I’d buy a Canon EOS.

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Canon EOS 300V, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.4 C/Y lens

No, they’re not the most glamorous or exciting to look at, nor do they have the luxury of the aforementioned Contax, or a huge bright viewfinder like a Minolta X-700.

But here’s a list of reasons why a humble EOS makes more sense than anything else. 

  1. Affordable. My first EOS, a 500, I bought for 99p plus a couple pounds postage. The 300V above, one of the last models made around 2002, was around £15.
  2. Plentiful. I just searched EOS in the film cameras category on eBay UK, from UK sellers, under £20 and found over 300 results. Obviously some models are better spec’d than others. I really like the super cheap 500. There are currently 35 of these for sale under £10.
  3. Small, light, compact. The advantage of a plastic (though pretty robust feeling) build is light weight. The EOS bodies are small too, especially examples like the 300V above. Cleverly though, they don’t feel cramped to hold, with a good sized ergonomically contoured handle.
  4. Adaptable. EOS are the compatibly kings, with simple adapters available for any number of other vintage lenses. These typically cost £5-10 each. This means you can have one EOS body and the pick of lenses from Zeiss, Asahi/Pentax, Minolta, Olympus, Yashica and many more, just by using a different adapter.
  5. Ease of use. The EOS bodies are easy to handle and easy to use, especially if you’re coming from digital cameras. Most have a similar mode dial, and later ones like the 300V have an LCD display on the back to show the major settings. Film loading and ISO setting is all automated. You can pick up an EOS and starting shooting in minutes, yet still have a depth of options you can explore as you become more experienced and adventurous.
  6. Features. The EOS 300v has an ISO range from 6 to 6400, shutter speeds from 30s down to 1/2000s, +/-2 exposure compensation and excellent metering. Pretty much all the options you’ll ever need. If you don’t know or care what most of this means, just note point 5 above – they’re easy to just pick up and use!
  7. Forward compatibility. If you invest in a film EOS, an adapter or two and a handful of lenses, at a later date you can get a digital EOS SLR and all the lenses and adapters will fit straight on. It’s the same mount. So with two EOS bodies – one film, one digital – and a few adapters and lenses, you you can have a tremendous range of shooting options at your disposal. But let’s get back to this 35 film set up.
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Canon EOS 500, Fujinon 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

So we have our bargain body. Next, the lens. 

I would suggest starting with a 50mm lens. On the whole, prime (ie non zoom) lenses tend to give better quality images than zooms. You could go for an AutoFocus (AF) lens in the native Canon EF mount that the EOS cameras use. But I would go for a more vintage option, via one of the aforementioned adapters, which are cheaper, much more satisfying to hold and use, and more fun.

There’s little to choose between the 50mm lenses of the major brands.

And as mentioned above, the EOS bodies are hugely adaptable. Personally I’ve settled on M42 and C/Y (Contax/Yashica) mounts.

In M42 you have a vast range of fantastic quality lenses available, such as the Asahi Takumars, Helios 44 series, Fujinons, Yashicas and Pentacons. Any of these can be had for around £20.

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Pentax MG, Yashica Yashinon-DS 50mm f/2 M42 lens, FujiColor C200 expired film

I paid £7 for my Helios 44-2 and have had excellent Pentacon 50/1.8s for less than £10. Yashicas can be brilliant buys too, again less than £10, like the one I used to shoot the photograph above.

A Takumar 55/2 can be bought for £15 – many turn their nose up at the f/2 version in favour of the f/1.8, but the truth is they are the same lens, just with the max aperture slightly disabled on the f/2. I’ve had both and can’t tell the difference in the final image.

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Pentax MG, Pentacon Auto 50mm f/1.8 M42 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

In C/Y mount the Yashica ML range are a very good buy.

Again most go for the faster lenses, the 50/1.4 (as pictured on the Canon EOS 300V in the first image above), or the 50/1.7. They’re still cheap (I paid about £30 for my 50/1.4, and a shade over £20 for a 50/1.7) but the bargain of the range is again the f/2. Performance is near identical to the other two, and the very common 50/2 can be had for less than £20, even less than £15.

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Contax 167MT, Yashica ML 50mm f/2 lens, Fuji Superia 200 expired film

The Pentax K mount also offer a fantastic range, and the Pentax-M 50/1.7 or 50/2 won’t disappoint. Also very impressive in this mount are the Auto Chinon 50/1.7 and Rikenon 50/2.

Minolta made some very fine lenses in their day too.

If you want a luxurious, weighty feel, go for an older 50, like an MC Rokkor-PF – they’re smoother than virtually all other vintage lenses I’ve used, bar except the Takumars.

If you want comparable performance but in a smaller, lighter package, try one of the cracking later era Minolta MD 50/1.7s. I got one a few months back attached to a Minolta X-300, both fully working, for £15.

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Minolta X-300, Minolta MD 50mm f/1.7 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

So to recap our (lack of) spending so far.

At the cheapest end, a Canon EOS body is available from around £5, and something like an M42 or Minolta or C/Y to EOS adapter start at around £7. If you’re patient, you’ll find an M42 Yashica Yashinon 50/2, C/Y mount Yashica ML 50/2 or Minolta MD 50/1.7 for £15.

This takes your total to £27.

If you want a slightly later body, say a 300V or 300X (though the 500 is stunning value), you might need to spend £15 or £20.

If you want a faster, more sought after lens, like a Pentax-M 50/1.7 or Takumar 55/1.8, you might need to invest £25.

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Pentax MZ-5N, Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200

The choice is yours, depending on your budget and interest.

This post is primarily about getting you set up with some quality, highly usable and enjoyable kit to shoot film with, so I don’t want to go into depth about film and processing.

I would point out though that a cheap and very capable film over here in the UK is AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200, available for £1 a roll from Poundland.

Expired film can also be very cheap, and give fantastic results.

I get my film processed and scanned to CD (no prints) either at Asda for about £3.50 a roll, or at my photo store up the road which is around £4.50-5 a roll. Having three or four rolls processed at the same time and burned to the same CD saves a few pounds.

It’s not as cheap as digital per shot, but with film, as I hope I’ve shown here, getting set up can be very cheap indeed – under £30.

After that, with a modest budget of £20 a month you can shoot a film a week. Or for £10, one a fortnight.

Which, for virtually all of us, is still a very affordable, and infinitely pleasurable hobby indeed.

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Canon EOS 500, Fujinon 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

If you have any questions, or any tips of your own, please join the conversation in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

 

Five Pointed SLR

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Despite having four more SLRs than pictured here, these are my latest incarnation of the core kit I love and need.

I’m tired of having more, and always switching batteries, straps and lenses around.

Here’s why I love these five, and plan to keep them and sell the rest –

Contax 167MT

As fierce as it is handsome, it does all I possibly need from an SLR, efficiently and seamlessly.

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Contax 167MT, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.5 lens, Northern Film Lab Kodak Vision 3 ISO1.6 film

This is the one I reach for if I need a wide ISO and shutter speed range (ISO6-6400 and 1/4000s to 16s respectively), exposure compensation (+/- 2 in 1/3 stops), exposure bracketing (+/- 0.5 or 1 stop), continuous shooting and automated wind on.

It also has the purest viewfinder (VF) of any camera, pure matte, bar the simple central circle.

Though I don’t yet have a Zeiss lens with MM modes, the 167MT supports these so offers shutter priority and three program modes, as well as the fully Manual (M) and Aperture Priority (Av) modes that can be used with an C/Y lens. With the M42 > C/Y adapter I can use any lens I have (I now only have M42 and C/Y lenses!) on the one camera.

Also, this is the only camera here I don’t have any “if onlys” about. It has everything.

Contax 139 Quartz

My favourite SLR I have ever used.

Simpler than the awesome 167MT, but with that comes smaller size, lighter weight and a more straightforward, arguably more immersive experience.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film @ISO125

Excellent VF, Av and M modes, and the smoothest wind on and shutter button I’ve yet experienced in any SLR, make it an absolute delight to use.

With the aperture read out as well as shutter speed in the VF (that remain easy to see, yet don’t obstruct the main composition), plus a depth of field (DOF) preview button, it has all I need for 95% of my photography.

I might argue the button on the front for exposure check is less instinctive to use than a half press of the shutter button, but the 159MM has that, as well as a wider range of capabilities, yet somehow I don’t like that model as much as the 139 Quartz or the 167MT.

Canon EOS 500

This still feels a very strange choice for me, and a real oddball in that it’s relatively modern (1993-96), very plasticky, not made by Contax or Pentax, plus I have no native lenses for it.

But despite my long reluctance – disdain even, at even picking up an EOS, I finally succumbed when this came along and still left me change from a fiver.

For the money it’s an incredibly useful, versatile and easy to use camera.

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Canon EOS 500, Fujinon 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens, Fuji Superia 100 film expired 2003 @ISO64

The ergonomics are surprisingly good, it’s very light, and in many ways is even more capable than the 167MT, equalling the ISO6-6400 range of film speeds, plus whilst the top shutter speed is a stop slower at 1/2000s, the max is an impressive 30s!

The VF, if not a revelation compared with the Contax cameras, is really very good for a camera designed purely with AF lenses in mind.

Talking of which, with a native EF lens you have the option of auto or manual focus, Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Program modes, as well as further portrait, landscape, macro and sports modes, and a very fancy A-DEP (Automatic Depth of Field) setting which apparently lets you choose two points between which you want everything to be in focus, then the camera chooses the right aperture to do this. Wow!

I’m very tempted to pick up a 50/1.8 EF lens to explore these modes, and then I’d have an SLR that covers every mode from fully manual (ISO, focus, aperture, shutter speed) to fully auto and everything in between.

Oh and the exposure system is excellent, I’ve been delighted with the shots I’ve got with the EOS and my M42 lenses so far. As well as the M42 > EOS adapter I have a C/Y to EOS adapter so again like the Contax bodies I can use any lens I have on this camera.

Asahi Pentax Spotmatic F

The most classic, most endearing, best built and smoothest to use M42 SLR I’ve tried. Indeed it’s the best mechanical camera I’ve used full stop. Just a joy, especially with the Takumar lenses.

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Asahi Pentax Spotmatic F, Auto Chinon 55mm F/1.7 M42 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 expired film

Whilst the meter does work in mine, I just use it Sunny 16 (Sunny 11 in the UK!) and get along fine.

The camera I reach for when I want battery-less old school simplicity, elegance and fine mechanical engineering.

Contax 139 Quartz

Same as the other one, just this one has been re-covered. Aside from that they’re equally delicious to handle and use, and it’s the only camera I love so much I feel I need a back up!

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Contax 139 Quartz, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.7 lens, FujiFilm Superia 100 film expired 2012 @ISO125

Writing about these five has been enlightening.

It’s compounded the fact that the three Contax and the Spotmatic are absolute keepers and cameras I adore owning and using.

But surprisingly, more than that, it’s reminded me how versatile the little EOS is, and how it’s the lightest and arguable most versatile body of all here. An AutoFocus EF lens (50/1.8 or maybe 35/2) seems very tempting, which would extend its versatility much further still.

Which is almost unbelievable, especially given it cost me about a tenth of what the other four here did!

The conclusion, to my own shock as much as anyone, seems to be that for those who want a light, adaptable, capable and super affordable film SLR, get an EOS and an M42 adapter!

What are your favourite SLRs? Have you had any of the above, or similar? Let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.